George Best was born on 22 May 1946 to parents Dickie and Anne Best. He has four sisters and one brother - Carol, Barbara, Julie, Grace and Ian. He grew up in Burren Way, in the Cregagh (pronounced Craig-ah) Estate in the Castlereagh area of East Belfast, Northern Ireland. His father, who worked in the shipyards, still lives in the area.
George’s parents saw from a young age that he had a passion for football, and he supported Wolverhampton Wanderers as a child. His mother said of a young George, "with George it was always the ball!" He played for the boys club in Cregagh.
George won a scholarship to Belfast grammar school, Gosvenor, when he was 11. However, the only sport offered at Grosvenor was rugby. After being caught skipping school, it was agreed that George should change to Lisnasharragh Secondary School. Here, reunited with friends from primary school and his favourite ball game, George settled into his new school with ease.
George displayed a great talent for the sport, and gained the attention of Glentoran, an East Belfast team. However, they were reluctant to take him on due to his small frame.
He married twice, first to Angela MacDonald-James in 1978. They have a son, Calum, born on 6 February 1981. Calum is a model and has appeared in ITV's Celebrity Love Island and Calum, Fran and Dangerous Danan in 2006. George and Angie divorced in 1984, and he married his second wife, Alex Pursey, eleven years later. She is a former air hostess and 26 years his junior. However, the couple separated in September 2003 after the media reported that George had been unfaithful, and pictures revealed that he had started drinking again. The couple divorced the following year. Alex appeared as a contestant on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! in 2004.
I was the one who took football off the back pages and put it on to page one.
– George Best
George has been described as the first of the “showbizz footballers” as he was attracting lots of attention from all directions. He was getting thousands of letters every week from fans. Being asked for personal appearances, endorsements and modelling contracts, he was developing an impressive career both on and off the pitch. His long hair earned him the nickname, "the fifth Beatle".
I went missing quite a lot...... Miss England, Miss Wales, Miss World.....
- George Best
George gained intense media attention, which put great pressure on his fotball. He spent a lot of time at parties, drinking and dating actresses and models. He also opened a nightclub and several fashion boutiques. These, however, were not a success. Thoughout this, George continued to be in the public eye, and this lead to some negative press reports.
Being in the public eye had a great effect on George, as he was natrually quite modest. The most notable was his alcoholism, which cost him his playing career, and ultimately his life. However, despite his continual alcohol problems, run-ins with police, domestic violence allegations, and drunken public appearances, George had many fans, won over by the cheeky and loveable image he had.
George received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University, Belfast, in December 2001, and Freedom of the Borough of Castlereagh four months later.
Former Miss World, Mary Stavin, made a keep fit video with George in 1984. It was called Shape Up and Dance. George was also a successful commentator for Sky Sports in the 1990s, as well as being a popular after-dinner speaker.
George And The Law
George had more than one run-in with the law, many related to his alcohol abuse.
George spent Christmas 1984 in HMP Pentonville in London, after being convicted of drink driving, assaulting a policeman and failing to meet bail. He was got a three-month sentence, and an appeal failed. While in prison, he played for the football team in HMP Ford, then known as Ford Open Prison.
In 1990, he appeared on Terry Wogan's BBC chat show. He was obviously drunk during the show, and swore on camera. Later, he apologised and revealed that this was one of his worst periods of alcoholism.
In 1991, eight months after his appearance on Wogan, George was bound over following his assault on a man in a pub in London.
He was forced to leave his flat in Chelsea in 1998. He had lived there since 1985, but was seventy thousand pounds behind on the mortgage. He only left after being threatened with eviction.
George was convicted of another drink-driving offence on 3rd January 2004. He was fined and banned from diving for 20 months.
On 9th June 2005, George was accused of sexually assaulting a girl under the age of 13. One month later, on 6th July 2005, the charges were dropped.
In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life.
- George Best
I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars - the rest I just squandered.
- George Best
Despite many attempts to stop drinking over the years, George continued to drink excessively, and his health deteriorated.
He was hospitalised in 2000, suffering from liver problems. He then received a liver transplant in July 2002. He received much criticism as he openly drank following the transplant, and was a regular in his local pub in Petersfield in Hampshire. He was often seen drinking white wine spritzers when out.
In October 2005, George was admitted to the private Cromwell Hospital in London with flu-like symptoms. He had developed a kidney infection as a result of the immuno-suppressive drugs he was required to take following the transplant. He spent three weeks in intensive care with family and friends at his bedside. Early editions of some morning papers reported on 27th October that George’s condition had worsened and that he had made his final farewells to family and friends. However, his condition appeared to improve slightly.
On 20 November 2005, British tabloid, the “News Of The World”, printed a photograph of George in a hospital bed. It reported his final message to the world: “Don’t die like me”.
In mid-November his condition deteriorated. Treatment was stopped in the early hours of the 25th November, and George finally died of lung infection and organ failure at 12.55pm. He was 59 and had lived longer than doctors had expected after treatment was stopped. During the weekend of George’s death, there was a one-minute silence held before every Premier League game.
The funeral was held on Saturday 3 December 2005 in the Great Hall at Stormont in Belfast. George was buried alongside his mother in Belfast's Roselawn cemetry as he had wished. Despite the rain, an estimated 100 thousand people lined the funeral route from Cregagh to Stormont to pay their respects. Millions worldwide watched the funeral, as it was broadcast live on the BBC.
A CD was released featuring songs performed by Brian Kennedy and Peter Corry at George’s funeral. The proceeds for the CD sales went to the George Best Foundation, which was set up by George’s family to aid in research into liver disease. The songs are as follows:
1. You Raise Me Up - Brian Kennedy
2. The Long And Winding Road - Peter Corry
3. Bring Him Home/Vincent Medley - Peter Corry and Brian Kennedy
Inside the CD cover is this message from George’s sister, Barbara:
“The family would like to assure the public that George never took his liver transplant for granted. Through the George Best Foundation we aim to raise funds to carry out research into alcoholism and liver disease.”
The CD reached the Top 20 in the charts, and the BBC reported that on 2nd January 2007, it had reached Number 11. The CD had large sales in Northern Ireland, and it is believed that this is what gave it such success in the charts.